D.C. tudents gathered on the steps of Anacostia High School on Jan. 16 to urge Mayor Muriel Bowser to fund violence prevention endeavors in schools throughout the city. (Shevry Lassiter/The Washington Informer)
D.C. tudents gathered on the steps of Anacostia High School on Jan. 16 to urge Mayor Muriel Bowser to fund violence prevention endeavors in schools throughout the city. (Shevry Lassiter/The Washington Informer)

In their appeal to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) for an expansion of anti-violence resources, a collective of youth from city public and public charter schools have relied on their experiences and memories of friends who lost their lives as the catalyst for what they consider a just and common-sense cause.

One student who took to the podium during a recent gathering in front of Anacostia High School in Southeast assessed the conditions afflicting his generation and demanded that city officials create an environment in which all young people dealing with trauma can properly heal.

“Back in 2018, one of my best friends committed suicide because of the bullying and personal [issues] going on in her life. It hurt a lot,” Jayden Graham, an eighth grader attending Hart Middle School, said Thursday.

Jayden counted among more than a dozen Black and Latino students representing Anacostia, Banneker Academic High School, Roosevelt Senior High School, Stanton Elementary School, and Center City Public Charter School. Each speaker bracing the bitter cold provided their on-the-ground perspective as part of a press conference coordinated by the Washington Teachers’ Union and District clergymen and women.

The event, held on the front steps of Anacostia in anticipation of Bowser’s fiscal 2021 budget proposal, started just minutes before youth leaving the school engaged in a shouting match at the front door that almost turned physical.

In her remarks, Pastor Miriam Niles of the Real Life Today Church in Southeast said the situation highlighted the need for stronger Safe Passage programs, on-campus Friday-night activities, mental health screenings, and other services youth demanded of Bowser.

Jayden, who spoke toward the end of the conference, would later echo Niles’ sentiments.
“I feel like violence is the resort we take when we think there are no other means,” he said. “We think that revenge is the way to succeed. There are a lot of other ways to get back at the people who hurt you. Victory is revenge and it looks like success and you being happy.”

A Citywide Problem

Hours after the end of the January 16 press conference, police responded to a call on the 900 block of Whaler Place in Southeast where they found two youths, ages 11 and 15, with gunshot wounds. This event followed an announcement by the Metropolitan Police Department that officers apprehended a teenager suspected of killing 15-year-old Thomas Johnson in August.

Thomas’ murder counted among more than dozen involving young people during the past calendar year. Other incidents of note involved Karon Brown, an 11-year-old youngster allegedly killed by an adult man amid a confrontation on Alabama Avenue in Southeast in July. That month, authorities found Ahkii Washington-Scruggs and his father fatally shot in their Northeast apartment on what was the first anniversary of Makiyah Wilson’s murder.

Not long before his death, Ahkii, a 17-year-old Dunbar High School student and football player, wrote a poem titled “A City Full of Hate.” That literary work, in part, spoke to instances of bullying that many young people said often occur, in person and online, without any consequences for perpetrators.

A 2018 report by the Citywide Youth Bullying Prevention Program found that nearly half of D.C. schools neither provided staff training around the Youth Bullying Prevention Act of 2012 or included an anti-bullying policy on its website. A school climate report also showed that local schools had some ways to go in protecting LBGTQ students and other marginalized groups.

In recent years, young people have coalesced around a rallying cry for wraparound services that tackle the root causes of youth violence and suicides. For instance, students representing the Black Swan Academy launched their #LetMeVent campaign in May, intended to outline their budget demands to the D.C. Council. Through their video production, the young people on the frontlines of the Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School’s Pathways 2 Power movement also stressed the need for city officials to address their peers’ deaths and that of several other youths.

Though schools in Wards 7 and 8 experienced a decrease in funding, the Fiscal Year 2020 budget approved by the D.C. Council in May allocated $9 million in funding for school-based mental health services. It also included an investment of $5.5 million for additional permanent supportive housing slots and other resources for homeless youth. The D.C. Council increased funding for the Office of the Attorney General’s Cure the Streets program and a similar program hosted within the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement.

At the Very Foundation

At the beginning of the 2019-2020 academic year, Bowser, DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee and others a revamped Safe Passage program that integrated community members’ concerns collected during meetings hosted by the Office of the Student Advocate. People at those gatherings often bemoaned what they described as the divestment of recreation centers and public schools serving communities east of the Anacostia River.

For Aden Wiggins, such accommodations, even if not at a Department of Parks and Recreation facility, have been of great benefit to him.

“In my neighborhood, I hear gunshots all the time. I was afraid that I would be next,” said Aden, a third grader at Stanton Elementary School who frequents the TraRon Center, a Ward 8-based provider of therapeutic activities for gun violence survivors. “The TraRon Center helped me deal with my feelings. I think that every student should have a safe space to talk about their fears.”

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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1 Comment

  1. Anyone interested in reducing violence, including gun violence, should watch One Punch Homicide. It’s getting great reviews and can be seen free online. It should be shown in schools.

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